illustrations: Johanna Dumet
It all started one fateful Tuesday morning as I stood in my bathroom. The previous night I’d submitted the manuscript of How to be German 2 to my publisher and I considered my German Integration project finished. I was integrated. Standing in the bathroom, I looked below the mirror to a shelf where I saw the toothpaste tubes Elmex and Aronal. They knew, that I knew, that it is wrong to use the same toothpaste for both morning and night. This is not the German way, for it is obvious that your teeth have different cleaning needs depending on the time of day. Logisch. Right? You wouldn’t use the same shampoo when showering at night, as when showering in the morning, would you? Exactly.
Yet as my hand reached for the correct tube for this time of day – Aronal – something within me snapped. I pointed to the mirror and said, “Who are you to tell me what to do, Germany? With your rules and your, erm, useful, practical logic! NO MORE! I’m out. I can’t take it. I’m rebelling!”
It was almost exactly like in the 1976 movie, Taxi Driver, in which Travis stands defiantly in front of the mirror and says, threateningly, “you talkin’ to me? YOU TALKING TO ME? Well, who the hell else are you talkin’ to? There’s only me here.”
I put the Aronal back on the shelf. What I did next might shock you. I hope you are sitting down. If you are not sitting down, sit down. If you are already sitting down, consider adopting the “brace, brace” position… That’s right, I picked up the Elmex, and even though it was morning and my teeth would not be ready for such a high intensity toothpaste, I threw caution to my oral needs and used the Elmex to clean them!!!!
When I’d finished, I looked at myself in the mirror but didn’t recognise the man staring back at me. I felt I’d turned a corner that I could not turn back from. I don’t really know what type of corner that was, possibly it was not a corner at all and so I have wrongly described it to you. Perhaps it was more of a portal. I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure about anything anymore…
I headed to the office, where I greeted my colleagues as usual. They were not awake enough in their rigid conformity to see that in front of them stood a new man. A man that didn’t take no for an answer. Unless of course the expected answer was ‘yes’, in which case ‘no’ would do just fine but this was a bit complicated to explain and so I spared them the finer technicalities of my blossoming rebellion.
I sat down at my desk. My fingers opened out over my keyboard and I felt excited to check Spiegel Online for what would have been only the seventh time that morning. But when I tried to direct my left index finger to the key marked S, and the right to the key P, my fingers did not respond. It was like they had a life of their own. It was almost exactly like the 1999 movie, Idle Hands. I’d lost control of them. I looked down aghast terrified of what they might do next. I sat in horror as they lunged for different keys, seemingly at random. It began first, with a B, then the finger danced out to the I. I tried to put them back under control. They fought back. They were too strong. The key L was struck next.
No, they couldn’t? They wouldn’t? Would they?
Next came a D. Then dot. Then D. Then E. It was just as I’d feared – BILD.de!!!!!!!!!!!!
What had I become? I seemed hell-bent on my own self-destruction. At lunch while my colleagues would share anecdotes from articles titled “China wirft Vietnam Provokation auf hoher See vor,” all I would be able to offer would be “Promi Dinner Claudia Effenberg schwärmt von ihrem Ex Stefan,” or, “Bild eklärt die Blitz-Karriere von Jogis Last-Minute-Nominierung.”
My boss came by to thank me for a recent report that I had written. I sat on my hands.
“Herr Fletcher, Guten Tag. Wie geht es Ihnen?”
“Alles Gut. Und dir?” I replied.
Yes, I duz’ed him. I duz’ed him right in his face. I duz’ed him like it meant it meant nothing to me. Like he was some Bettler (who I was addressing, but was clearly younger than me) on the U-Bahn. I saw how it hurt him. It was like the lights went out in his eyes. There would be no going back now, and most likely there would be going forward, not for me, not in this company. I picked up my coat and I ran, I ran out, I ran all the way down the stairs and out into the street and I ran all the way to the next corner and then I stopped because I was tired from running too much.
That evening, I had agreed to meet friends for drinks. We were to meet at 7pm. As normal polite German etiquette dictates, I sent them all an SMS letting them know I might be slightly late, before arriving at exactly 6:45pm. I then began furiously checking my watch every fifteen seconds. The waitress approached me and I said, instinctively, “Ich hätte gerne eine Apfels…”
I watched her write Apfelsaftschorle before I’d even finished the word. She thought that she knew me. That I was that predictable. Oh, this is Germany, he’ll order Apfelsaftschorle…
I hadn’t even finished saying it yet. Irritated, I continued my order, “Apfelorangenkirschbananenschorle!”
“Apfelorangenkirschbananenschorle?” she replied, confused. “As one Schorle?” It was too late to back down now.
“Yes, Apfelorangenkirschbananenschorle,” I said, in confirmation, as if this drink totally existed and actually I drank it rather regularly.
I then sat alternating between looking out of the window and looking down at my watch, waiting for my friends to arrive, and also drinking my rather disgusting Frankensteinschorle, whose only redeeming quality was that it tasted like insubordination. In turns out that insubordination tastes sweet. A little too sweet, in fact.
Slowly, my friends arrived and we settled down for a fun evening together. I’m happy to report that I was able to restraint my inner subversive for most of evening. I could feel that it really wanted to disrupt the new German world order, but I was able to keep those feelings of malcontent hidden until we prosted for the first time. I have no idea why, but I singled out one friend, let’s call him Stefan, since that’s his name, and at every round I prosted Stefan twice! He would begin pulling his glass away after that first prost, thinking it was all over but then I would chase this glass with my glass and I’d just prost it again, for the hell of it. Sometimes I even crossed glasses with other participants in the prosting circle while doing this. I could see Stefan was confused. I wanted to explain. But I had no explanation. I mouthed “sorry”. I hoped he understood. I don’t think he understood, since he went home early. As did I. I needed to be alone, to think, to reflect on who I had become.
I was reassured to see that home looked exactly as it had when I’d left this fateful morning. As I walked in, my Hausschuhe were sitting there by the door, like a faithful dog awaiting its master. I looked down upon them with affection. I knew my feet were dirty. My feet knew my feet were dirty. My apartment knew my feet were dirty. Everyone knew what everyone should do. Everyone should put on their Hausschuhe.
But would I do it? I felt torn. At a crossroads. This was the moment. Where I could burn it all to the ground. It was almost exactly like the 1999 movie, The Matrix, when Morpheus holds out the blue pill and the red pill. This is your last chance. After this, there’s no turning back. You take the blue pill, you put on your Hausschuhe, and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. Or you take the red pill and you stay a German rebel and I’ll show you how deep this rabbit-hole goes.
I took the blue pill. Ordnung muss sein.
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Text: Adam Fletcher, Illustrations: Johanna Dumet
Adam Fletcher is the Spiegel bestselling author of four books about Germany. The newest How to be German 2 will be released on August 29th and a reading will be held on Tuesday, 30th of August at Dussmann Kulturkaufhaus.
Berlin-based painter and illustrator Johanna Dumet is a self-proclaimed “Enfant Terrible”. Find her lively, vibrant paintings here.